2018: The Year in Villainy

It was a cinematic year that was primarily dominated by two Marvel villains, both of whom made big splashes. It’s hard to pick just one for the coveted title of Villain Of The Year, but ultimately there was one villain who just had to be given the title, and that villain is…

Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War

It had to be Thanos as Villain Of The Year. No other villain made as much of an impact on the lives of a movie’s characters. And not only did Thanos massively change (and, at least temporarily, end) the lives of dozens of superheroes, he also hugely impacted the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has become a box-office juggernaut ever since the release of Iron Man in 2008. With Thanos, Marvel showed that it is not afraid to shake up the status quo of its hugely profitable film franchise. And really, the fact that Thanos actually succeeded in wiping out half of all life in the universe makes him Villain Of The Year pretty much automatically.


Also, remember when he THREW A PLANET AT IRON MAN??? Holy crap that was awesome.

Josh Brolin did fantastic work bringing Thanos to life, and the writers, directors, and special-effects people created a character who was surprisingly sympathetic, instead of the two-dimensional power-hungry jerk the character could have easily been if he had not been handled so well. Infinity War was the culmination of a decade’s worth of blockbuster movies, and thanks to Thanos the Marvel Cinematic Universe will never be the same. And for the record, I am still not over that Spider-Man scene. You know the one. Sniff.

Erik Killmonger in Black Panther


In any other year, Killmonger would have been Villain Of The Year. But thanks to Thanos, he is a very strong runner-up. Michael B. Jordan was excellent and turned Killmonger, much like Thanos, into a deeply sympathetic and even tragic figure. The viewer could understand Killmonger’s point of view, even while disagreeing with his actions. He was charismatic, intelligent and badass. He was everything a great movie villain should be. I’ve got him as a very close runner-up for VOTY, but if he’s your number one I’m not going to tell you that you’re wrong.

Captain Wafner in Overlord

Paramount Pictures

In stark contrast to sympathetic villains like Thanos and Killmonger, Captain Wafner was a villain with no redeeming qualities at all. He was a sadistic Nazi captain who was irredeemably evil even before he got half his face blown off and injected himself with an experimental serum that gave him ungodly strength and turned him into even more of a monster. Overlord was one of the year’s goriest thrill rides, and its villain was one of the year’s nastiest.

The Predators in The Predator

20th Century Fox

Speaking of gory thrill rides, it’s a toss-up between Overlord and Shane Black’s much-maligned Predator reboot for the title of goriest movie of the year. The Predator had its share of flaws, but I still found it to be an enjoyable, if bumpy, ride, and probably the best thing about it was seeing the different varieties of Predator that Black and his creative team conjured up. The design of the Predator in the original 1987 Predator movie was great to begin with, so Black didn’t change it too much. But he did add a few new wrinkles that were fun to see even if the Predator dog creatures were a little goofy, complete as they were with Predator dreadlocks.

The Meg in The Meg

Warner Bros.

The Meg is the film that finally answered the age-old question, “What would happen if Jason Statham were to fight an enormous shark?” The Meg is a deeply cheesy B-movie that was nonetheless quite enjoyable, and its massive shark was its crowning achievement. Or should I say sharks, because there are actually two of the giant beasts. The toothy monstrosities are enormous and, of course, hungry for nubile human flesh. The Meg is a thoroughly preposterous movie that is certainly no masterpiece, but it is quite a bit of fun and its gargantuan shark beasts should be more than enough to satisfy any fan of aquatic monster movies.

Solomon Lane and August Walker in Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Paramount Pictures

Tom Cruise’s latest Mission: Impossible flick was the thrill ride of the year, and it had two quality villains to give Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and the rest of his team a run for their money. Sean Harris reprises his role as the diabolical Solomon Lane from the previous M:I film, and Superman himself, Henry Cavill, played August Walker, who was more than a match for Ethan in a fight. Give Lane and Walker credit: they came this close to enacting their evil plan, only to be thwarted at literally the last possible second. Being a bad guy can be a thankless task when all your hard work comes to naught. Hopefully they’ll try again in a few years, because I want more Mission: Impossible movies. Or at least Lane can try again, Walker won’t be able to participate on account of being extremely dead.

Ghost in Ant-Man and The Wasp


It was a year of sympathetic villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Ghost was a young woman who was suffering from a unique condition that gave her the ability to phase through solid objects and teleport short distances, which made her hard to handle in a fight, though her powers are unstable. But she became more sympathetic once the viewer learned about her tragic backstory, how she lost her parents in the lab accident that gave her powers and how shady government types took advantage of her powers to turn her into a weapon. She was the main superpowered antagonist for most of Ant-Man and The Wasp, but the movie ends with her seemingly cured of her affliction so perhaps we’ll see her again down the road.

The Murdersaurus (technically the Indoraptor) Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom


You could argue that the main villains of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom were the morons who thought it would be a good idea to auction off a bunch of dinosaurs, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But those people were all idiots and dinosaurs are much cooler, so let’s talk about the Indoraptor instead. I dubbed it the Murdersaurus because it was a genetically-engineered death lizard designed specifically for hunting and killing. It gets to do a lot of hunting and killing in the second half of Fallen Kingdom, and I was kind of sad when it died because it was my favorite character in the movie.

Lizzy and Ralph in Rampage

Warner Bros.

Speaking of monster movies where all of the human characters were pretty dumb, Rampage was another deeply silly movie that I enjoyed quite a bit, it just might have been my guilty-pleasure movie of the year. The monsters were George the albino gorilla, Ralph the wolf, and Lizzy the (I think) alligator, all of whom were mutated to enormous size and exceptional ferocity. I didn’t include George as one of the villains because he ultimately becomes a good ape again, despite causing a lot of death and destruction. The monsters are fun to watch and the special effects are top-notch, and much like Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom the monsters are much more entertaining the bland human characters.

The Screenslaver in Incredibles 2


For a kids movie, Incredibles 2 had a surprisingly sophisticated villain. Writer/director Brad Bird’s long-awaited follow-up to his 2008 original, Incredibles 2 is that rare movie that is fun for kids but also contains a lot for adults to enjoy. This is a movie that treats its viewers with respect, regardless of whether that viewer happens to be a kid or a grown-up. It’s a tricky balancing act, but Incredibles 2 makes it look easy. The Screenslaver is a villain who takes advantage of the world’s overreliance on technology, and manipulates the omnipresent screens that are all around us. That’s a scary idea. The Screenslaver is one of the most culturally-relevant cinematic villains of the year.

Dryden Vos in Solo: A Star Wars Story


Paul Bettany is one of my favorite actors. He’s the kind of actor who elevates any movie he’s in. Since he frequently plays good guys, it’s always fun to watch him cut loose as a bad guy and really chew some scenery. He chewed scenery with aplomb in the latest Star Wars spinoff as a ruthless crime lord named Dryden Vos, who was at least part alien. Dryden is the kind of villain who acts friendly one moment but can explode into murderous rage at the drop of a hat. I like villains like that because their unpredictability ensures that the viewer is always on edge whenever they are around. Bettany’s role in the film is not a huge one, which is not too surprising if you’re aware of the movie’s behind-the-scenes drama (Bettany’s role was initially played by a different actor), but he makes an impression with a limited amount of screen time, as all great actors do.

Cable in Deadpool 2

20th Century Fox

Okay, so this is another debatable one, since Cable and Deadpool end up as allies. But much like Ghost in Ant-Man and The Wasp, Cable serves as the superpowered antagonist for much of the film, so he counts. It was a big year for Josh Brolin playing Marvel comics characters, and he was perfectly cast as the gruff cyborg Cable. He looks pretty much identical to how Cable looks in the comics, and is placed front and center along with Deadpool in the movie’s biggest action scenes. Deadpool 2 was more cluttered than its predecessor, but it benefited from a more complex antagonist, even though I haven’t forgotten that Cable and Deadpool become pals by the end of the movie and have a long history of teaming up in the comics, so perhaps we’ll be seeing more of him in the future.

Mathias Vogel in Tomb Raider

Warner Bros.

Walton Goggins was another actor who had a busy year playing villains. In addition to playing the main villain in this year’s Tomb Raider reboot, he also played a secondary villain in Ant-Man and The Wasp. Goggins is an actor who frequently plays slimy bad guys, and he was well-suited to both of his villainous roles this year. In Tomb Raider he played Mathias Vogel, the leader of an expedition to find a hidden artifact with Great and Terrible Power. He was not a nice person, but he was at least somewhat sympathetic by virtue of the fact that he had been stuck on an island in the middle of nowhere for years and desperately wanted to return home. Still, he was a nasty fellow and his death was thematically appropriate and quite satisfying.

So there you have it, my favorite villains of 2018. Keep in mind that this was not a comprehensive list of every villain in every movie I saw this year, it was simply a list of my favorites. There were a surprising number of sympathetic villains this year, which makes me happy because if there is one thing I like it is a complex bad guy. 2019 is bringing us another full slate of bad guys, including the return of Thanos and the most dreaded evil clown of all, Pennywise. See you at the movies!

2016: The Year in Villainy

So much quality villainy this year! Let’s get to it.

Ajax and Angel Dust in Deadpool


Revenge is always a strong motivator, and few movie characters were as single-minded in their pursuit of it this year as Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool. Ajax (whose real name is Francis, what a dweeb) and Angel Dust both possess superhuman strength and Ajax feels no pain, which makes both villains quite the handful. They’re a potent villain/villainess duo who prove that being evil isn’t just for men anymore. Angel Dust deserves the Henchwoman of the Year award and I’m not just saying that because Gina Carano is a total badass and could easily kick my butt. Not saying that I wouldn’t be okay with that, mind you. Seriously Gina, call me.


Akan in Hardcore Henry


You know how I said a second ago that few movie characters were as single-minded in their pursuit of revenge as Deadpool? Well, Henry the cyborg is right up there with him. Vengeance is literally the only thing that this mute tornado of death and destruction desires, and he will stop at nothing in his ultraviolent quest to reach the despicable Akan. Akan is a telepathic douchebag in charge of an army of henchmen, and in addition to his air of jackassery he has also captured Henry’s wife, and is awfully smug about it. Jeez, this guy is such a tool. Or should I say was such a tool, since he’s on the receiving end of one of the most hilariously brutal and over-the-top villain deaths of the year. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy, though. Jerk.

Lex Luthor and Doomsday in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and Zemo in Captain America: Civil War


The villain is usually the character the heroes spend the most time fighting, but in the case of the year’s two biggest superhero team-ups, that’s not quite the case. In both films, the heroes spend the majority of their time fighting each other because there’s a villainous figure secretly manipulating them. I wasn’t a huge fan of Jesse Eisenberg’s bizarre portrayal of Lex Luthor, but I did like Zemo, who was a more understandable character. Any time a villain can get the heroes to do the work for him, that counts as a win in the Big Book O’ Villainy, and for that, Zemo and Lex deserve some evil kudos.


I was not overly fond of Doomsday, an ugly CGI beast who menaces Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. But I can give him credit for being strong enough to require three heroes to defeat him, and his resilience earns him (it?) a mention on this list. And when you’re tough enough to (spoiler alert) KILL THE MAN OF STEEL, then you kind of have to be a badass.

Apocalypse in X-Men: Apocalypse


Apocalypse is an ancient mutant, thousands of years old, who awakens in Cairo, Egypt in the 1980s and is not pleased with the way the world has developed during his several-thousand-years-long slumber. He promptly recruits some followers (because Apocalypse has to have his Horsemen, naturally), gaining their loyalty by enhancing their mutant powers and giving them a sense of belonging, while the rest of the world has cast them out. He then initiates a diabolical plot to destroy modern society and reshape the world the way he wants it to be. The previous X-film, Days of Future Past, was less black and white with its villains, but suffice to say the X-folks have their work cut out for them with Apocalypse.

The Alien Queen in Independence Day: Resurgence


Resurgence was a mediocre film, but the Alien Queen was cool. Basically a roided-up version of the Independence Day aliens we’ve seen before, but massive and equipped with her own personal shield generator, which throws the film’s heroes for a loop. It takes a lot to bring her down, and she and her legions of alien henchmen (henchaliens?) cause untold mass destruction and millions of human casualties before she is defeated. The movie’s blatant sequel-bait ending strongly implies there are more of her kind in the universe, so we might be seeing more like her before too long, assuming the less-than-stellar reception Resurgence received didn’t put the kibosh on future installments.

Enchantress and the Joker in Suicide Squad


Ironically, the movie that was all about the villains is probably the hardest movie to write about when it comes to said villains. The primary antagonist of the film’s ragtag bunch of miscreants was the Enchantress, basically an evil spirit possessing the body of a young doctor. She caused all kinds of trouble, although she was still pretty forgettable. Slightly more memorable was Jared Leto’s punk-rock Joker, who suffered from a similar lack of characterization but benefits from the weight of 75 years of comic-book history. He was relegated to the sidelines for most of the movie, but every time he showed up you knew some shit was about to go down, which is as it should be with the Joker.


Kaecilius in Doctor Strange


Mads Mikkelsen is one of my favorite actors, especially when he’s evil. The Danish actor brings the evil to Marvel’s latest franchise-starter, providing a compelling dark sorcerer to battle the Sorcerer Supreme played by Benedict Cumberbatch. The final showdown between the two is a sight to behold, as the opposing masters of magic square off against the backdrop of time moving backwards, and a destroyed city repairs itself. The only problem with Mikkelsen playing so many villains is that he tends to get killed off a lot, which means he won’t appear in the sequels. Oh, well. Beggars can’t be choosers.

Shere Khan in The Jungle Book


It was a good year for Idris Elba playing villains. He provided the voice for Shere Khan, the evil tiger in Disney’s smash-hit live-action adaptation of The Jungle Book. Although it was more of an animated film since the entire movie was shot in front of green screens with only one live-action actor, but that’s beside the point. Despite being a special effect, Elba’s Shere Khan was sleek and scary, and may even have been a bit too scary for very young members of the audience. But scariness is one of the hallmarks of a great villain, and Shere Khan fits that description nicely.

The Shark in The Shallows


It was also a good year for evil animals in the movies. A bloodthirsty Great White shark spends 86 minutes relentlessly trying to dine on the nubile flesh of Blake Lively in The Shallows. The film is a remarkably effective thriller, and although I have no idea if the movie’s portrayal of shark behavior is scientifically accurate, I don’t much care when it makes for such a watchable movie. The Shallows is similar to Alfonso Cuaron’s 2013 masterpiece Gravity in structure. It’s short, technically masterful, and mostly concerned with the trials and tribulations of a single female character. It’s an intense piece of work, and the toothy shark will be enough to make you afraid to go in the water all over again.

Krall in Star Trek Beyond


Hey, it’s Idris Elba again! This time he’s playing Krall, a menacing alien creature who manages to completely trash the beloved starship Enterprise. He causes all kinds of trouble for Captain Kirk and his intrepid crew. Elba is mostly unrecognizable buried under layers of makeup and prosthetics, and his voice is sometimes hard to understand. Krall is basically an intergalactic version of Batman’s enemy Bane, and although Krall’s motivations turn out to not be anything unique (his motivations are quite similar to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness), but he remains a fun and intriguing villain.

John Boy in The Nice Guys


You mean like John Boy from The Waltons? No, not like John Boy from The Waltons. Shane Black’s third directorial feature may have been a comedy, but John Boy was a brutal mob assassin who took no prisoners. He gunned people down with no remorse and even tossed a thirteen-year-old girl through a window, so you knew he meant business. The Nice Guys is a fantastic movie that is chock-full of memorable characters, even though not all of them are as likable as the hapless heroes played by Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling.

The Asset in Jason Bourne


Every Bourne movie features at least one CIA asset sent to dispatch Jason Bourne, but the Asset in Bourne’s latest adventure, played by French actor Vincent Cassel, is particularly troublesome. It turns out that this asset has a personal grudge against Bourne, and his and Bourne’s histories are inextricably intertwined. This leads to an absolutely brutal showdown in Las Vegas, featuring quite possibly the most brutal hand-to-hand fight scene in a series known for brutal hand-to-hand fight scenes. Jason Bourne was a movie with a lot of flaws, but it delivered on the action sequences.

Bartholomew Bogue in The Magnificent Seven


With a name like Bartholomew Bogue, you’re pretty much destined to be evil. Peter Sarsgaard plays the thoroughly ruthless and despicable industrialist who holds the town of Rose Creek hostage. This guy is one Grade-A son of a bitch, a character the viewer despises from the moment he sets foot onscreen. It’s an effective performance from Sarsgaard as an absolute bastard, and as is the case with many absolute bastards, he turns out to be a coward once his power is taken away from him. One of the most detestable villains of the year.

Orson Krennic in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) Ph: Jonathan Olley �Lucasfilm LFL 2016.

Rogue One was an action-packed thrill ride that I enjoyed the heck out of, but the main villain, played by Ben Mendelsohn, was a bit boring. There’s nothing really wrong with Mendelsohn’s performance, but his character is basically a bureaucrat and isn’t terribly interesting. Fortunately, another evil presence is waiting in the wings, and its name is…


DARTH FREAKING VADER!! Holy crap, it was good to see Darth Vader on screen again. He doesn’t get a lot of screen time but he makes the most of his limited appearance in Rogue One, and gets the chance to kick some rebel ass in the process. It just makes me so happy that one of the most iconic villains in cinematic history is once again on movie screens, even if it is just briefly. The fact that he’s voiced by James Earl Jones is icing on the cake.

So there you have it, the best of the best of cinematic villainy. There’s another good slate of movies scheduled for release in 2017, so I’ll see you all again for another roundup before you know it.

The Simple Art of Murder, 70’s Style

Shane Black has a knack for finding pairs of actors that have great chemistry, especially actors that you wouldn’t necessarily think would go together.

Take Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer. Kilmer has a reputation for being difficult to work with, and Downey has a troubled past which most viewers are probably aware of. And yet, they had wonderful chemistry in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

And who can forget the classic pairing of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon, the buddy-cop duo against which all other buddy-cop duos will inevitably be measured and found lacking?

And now in 2016, here comes Black’s latest offering The Nice Guys, featuring the inspired pairing of Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. Gosling has done some comedies, but I’ve never thought of Russell Crowe as a comedic actor (my favorite movie of his will always be Gladiator, which isn’t what you would call a barrel of laughs).

But you guessed it, they’re hilarious together. Gosling plays a somewhat hapless private detective named Holland March, and Crowe plays a tough guy by the name of Jackson Healy, who more or less beats people up for money. This includes Holland, whose arm Jackson breaks in an early scene. As is the case with many buddy-comedies, the two protagonists start the film hating each other and working together reluctantly, but over the course of the film they develop a friendship.


There are certain things that show up in virtually every movie Shane Black does. He loves mismatched tough-guy duos, he loves Los Angeles, he loves bullets, broads and bad words. All of these are present and accounted for in his latest directorial effort, which he also co-wrote. The Nice Guys is very similar to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, the main difference being that The Nice Guys is set during the 1970’s.

I’m glad I wasn’t alive in the 70’s, since based on what I’ve seen in movies everything in the 70’s was absolutely butt ugly. The clothes, the cars, the buildings, all of it. Hideous. This is not a strike against the film, since it does a great job of evoking the period. Black gives his characters their own sense of style, from Gosling’s distinctive facial hair to Crowe’s hideous blue jacket.

The plot centers around the death of a porn star named Misty Mountains (har!). Suffice to say that Ms. Mountains was involved in some shady dealings (I mean, beyond the kinds of things porn stars are usually involved in), which snowballs into some shenanigans that involve mysterious assassins and people in high places who may be Up To No Good.

As with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, the plot is somewhat secondary to the often-hilarious interactions between the main characters. Gosling and Crowe bounce off each other wonderfully, and I would love to see them together again. In addition to Holland and Jackson, the movie’s other most significant character is Holland’s daughter Holly (I wonder why he named her that?), and the movie gets a lot out of mileage out of Jackson and Holly’s budding friendship and Holly’s bitterness towards her well-meaning but hapless dad.

So hapless is poor Holland that when he tries to break a window by wrapping his fist in a handkerchief and punching the glass, he ends up cutting his arm so badly he nearly passes out from blood loss and ends up in the emergency room, and Holly later calls him the worst detective ever. That may sound a bit harsh, but Holland turns out to be a better private eye than anyone gave him credit for, including probably himself, and certainly his daughter.

I liked the daughter. Precocious kids who are wiser than their parents in TV and movies can get tiresome, but Holly is a likable and funny character. She’s also important to unravelling the plot, so her character doesn’t feel extraneous. She can be hard on her dad but she also loves him, and the two of them have some great exchanges of dialogue (Her: “Dad, there are like, whores here and stuff!” Him: “Honey, I’ve told you before, don’t say ‘and stuff.’ Just say, ‘Dad, there are whores here.’”). 

Black’s films are very idiosyncratic, and there are moments and lines of dialogue in his movies that may seem odd or out of place on the initial viewing. The drawback of this is that some moments can seem to miss the mark at first, but the bonus is that Black’s films improve greatly the more times you watch them, and the more you become accustomed to his style.


If memory serves, I didn’t love Kiss Kiss Bang Bang the first time I watched it, but it is now one of my favorite movies. This has also been the case with Black’s Iron Man 3, which I’ve come to like more in the years since its release than I did the first time I saw it. It’s one of Marvel’s quirkier films, and I admire Marvel for giving Black the creative freedom to make it his own.

This is another quality Black shares with Raymond Chandler. The first time I tried to read Chandler I had a lot of trouble with him, his style of writing put me off and the plots of his novels seemed puzzlingly dense. Eventually I decided to give him another go, and Chandler is now one of my favorite authors.

I didn’t love The Nice Guys on my first (and to date only) viewing, but I suspect that my enjoyment of the movie will increase the more I watch it and I look forward to seeing it again. Even though it didn’t exactly set the box office on fire over its first weekend of release, it’s the kind of movie that will probably be looked at fondly in the years to come, and it’s easy to see it becoming a cult classic. If you know what you’re getting into you will likely enjoy it, even if it comes across as a little weird the first time you watch it.

The Simple Art of Murder

Shane Black’s 2005 film Kiss Kiss Bang Bang has been a favorite of mine ever since I first saw it. It is a criminally underrated movie that nonetheless has a developed a cult following over the years, which it more than deserves. Black’s new film, The Nice Guys, is coming out on Friday, so I figured there was no better time to look back at his earlier underappreciated gem.


Kiss Kiss Bang Bang stars Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer and Michelle Monaghan as one of my favorite cinematic trios. Shane Black is most famous for writing Lethal Weapon and directing Iron Man 3, and he’s got a real knack for writing characters that spark and dialogue that crackles.

Robert Downey Jr. plays Harry Lockhart, a two-bit thief in New York who finds himself whisked away to Los Angeles after a job goes wrong, and in his efforts to escape from the cops he inadvertently wanders into an audition where he impresses the casting directors so much that they fly him to LA for a screen test.

Once in LA, he meets Perry van Shrike, played by Val Kilmer. Perry is a private detective who also works as a consultant for movies and TV. He’s also gay, and is known as Gay Perry. Perry is supposed to give Harry private-detective lessons to help his acting. And wouldn’t you know it, the rhyming-name duo of Harry and Perry promptly find themselves in a heap of trouble when what should have been a simple stakeout ends with a dead girl in the back of a car that winds up in a lake, and a couple of sinister-looking thugs in black leather jackets and wearing ski masks.

Harry also reconnects with an old flame, the wonderfully-named Harmony Faith Lane, played by Michelle Monaghan. I will always have a huge crush on Monaghan because of this movie. Not only is she gorgeous, but she plays Harmony with so much vitality and energy that it’s impossible not to fall in love with her. Although calling her Harry’s old flame may be a bit of a stretch, since they were friends in high school but never, you know, more than friends, despite Harry’s anguish at her hooking up with every guy in high school except for him. Harmony’s sister also suddenly turns up dead in LA, and she turns to Harry for help (thinking erroneously that he is an actual private detective).


Harmony is from a small town called Embrey, Indiana (“When in doubt, cut up a pig. That was the town motto,” Harry explains in voice-over) who moved to LA to pursue becoming an actress. As a kid, she fell in love with a man named Johnny Gossamer. Johnny was the main character in a series of dime-store paperbacks with names like “Die Job” and “You’ll Never Die in This Town Again.”

The most obvious comparison is to Raymond Chandler’s iconic private eye Philip Marlowe. Chandler is one of my all-time favorite writers, he’s one of my literary heroes. Shane Black clearly feels the same way, and even gives sections of the film titles that are names of some of Chandler’s books (Trouble Is My Business, The Lady in the Lake, The Little Sister, The Simple Art of Murder, and Farewell, My Lovely).


One of the many pleasures of Raymond Chandler’s novels is that the reader spends a large chunk of each book wondering how in the hell the different threads of the story could possibly be tied together. And then, in every book, there comes the moment of clarity: the wonderful moment of revelation when you realize how it all fits together. It’s a sublime moment that happened to me during every one of Chandler’s books, and this is something that Shane Black is also very much aware of.

Harry even explains this to Perry, when describing how in every Johnny Gossamer book, it turns out that two separate cases are in fact the same case (this happened in a lot of Hardy Boys books too as I recall). And without giving too much away, in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang this also holds true, when it turns out that Harry and Perry’s case of the dead girl in the trunk of a car and Harmony’s case of the sudden death of her sister Jenna are also connected.


Even though this movie came out in 2005 and the statute of limitations on spoilers has expired, I’m not going to give away too much more about the plot. For one thing, it’s all a bit complicated and explaining every minute detail would take too long. It’s so complex, one could even call it convoluted, and it took me several viewings before I felt like I really had a handle on it. But it’s the kind of movie that encourages and rewards repeat viewings, and there’s something new to discover and enjoy every time you watch it. It wasn’t until the third or fourth time I watched it, for example, that I realized the ring tone on Perry’s cell phone is “I Will Survive.”

My enjoyment of the movie also has a lot to do with the characters of Harry, Perry, and Harmony, who are three of my favorite cinematic creations. The chemistry between Downey, Kilmer, and Monaghan is palpable and Shane Black’s dialogue is always on point. Robert Downey Jr. excels at playing fast-talking smart alecks, and he played Harry a full three years before he put on the Iron Man suit for the first time. Kilmer has a reputation as being difficult to work with, but the former Batman turns in one of his best performances as the tough-as-nails gay private detective. And I’ve talked a bit about Michelle Monaghan, but I have to mention her again because she’s just so great. I would happily hang out with any of these people in real life, as messed-up and with as much baggage as all of them have, their personalities resonate and they feel like genuine human beings, despite the frequently outrageous circumstances they find themselves in.


The movie is also hilariously funny, and there are scenes and lines of dialogue that have been permanently seared into my memory. (Perry: Look up the word “idiot” in the dictionary, do you know what you’ll find? Harry: Uh…a picture of me? Perry: NO! The definition of “idiot,” which you F*CKING are!!)  Some of the humor is of the gallows variety, like Harry and Perry’s bumbling efforts to get rid of a corpse (they toss it off the roof of a building, aiming for a dumpster, but the body hits the edge of the dumpster and lands in an alley).

There are some aspects of the movie that are hard to describe, such as Harry’s narration which pops up now and again throughout the movie. Harry frequently comments on what a bad narrator he is, and sometimes even stops the movie to go back and explain something he forgot to mention earlier. This makes the movie’s narrative even more complicated but Downey’s fourth-wall breaking is always funny, and it’s never so confusing that you completely lose track of what’s going on.

I love this movie. I genuinely do. It may not be to everyone’s tastes, but if you are a fan of noir and hard-boiled detective stories (and don’t mind a dose of black humor along the way) you owe it to yourself to check this one out.

The Surprise of WTF: Iron Man 3

Remember the guy in Predator with the glasses? Who tells the dirty jokes and was the first of Ahnuld’s crew of badasses to be eviscerated by the Predator? I think his name was Hawkins? He was played by a fellow by the name of Shane Black, best known for writing Lethal Weapon. The story is that he was working on the script for Lethal Weapon at the time Predator was being filmed, and producer Joel Silver wanted him around so he could review the script, so I guess they just decided to give him a supporting role while they were at it.

Now, twenty-six years after the release of Predator, along comes Iron Man 3, the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which was directed by none other than, you guessed it, Shane Black. Yep, that nerdy-looking dude from Predator who got eviscerated before anyone else directed and co-wrote one of the biggest films of the year (seriously, Iron Man 3 made somewhere in the neighborhood of 175 million dollars over its opening weekend, second only to The Avengers, which coincidentally was the last movie Iron Man made an appearance in).

Black was an interesting choice of director for a megabudget blockbuster like Iron Man 3, since his only previous directing credit was 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a fantastic little neo-noir (also starring Robert Downey Jr.) that flew under the radar when it was first released but has since developed something of a cult following. I love Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, it’s easily one of my top ten favorite movies of all time. It’s hilariously funny, has some fun action scenes, the leads have great chemistry, and it pays homage to one of my favorite authors, Raymond Chandler. I need to do a full write-up of it sometime because it’s bloody brilliant and is also a Christmas movie! I meant to write about it last Christmas but ran out of time, so maybe I’ll save it for next Christmas…or maybe I won’t.

But back to Iron Man. 2008’s original Iron Man is widely regarded as one of the best superhero movies pretty much ever made, and with good reason: it’s smart, funny, well-acted, action-packed, and has a lot of heart. 2010’s Iron Man 2, while (in my opinion) hardly being the catastrophe people sometimes make it out to be, couldn’t help but feel a bit flat in comparison. The good news is that Iron Man 3 picks up the slack and moves along at a more brisk pace than the somewhat lackadaisical second installment. The not-so-good news is that the story is, well, kind of all-over-the-place.

In the aftermath of the events of The Avengers, our hero Tony Stark has been plagued by anxiety attacks and nightmares following his near-death at the end of that film. To combat this, he has taken to holing up in his lab/workshop and building suit after suit of badass Iron Man armor. His latest creation, Mark 42, is remote-controllable and Tony is able to summon it from long distances to attach to his body piece-by-piece. This is actually a really cool idea and the movie gets a lot of mileage out of it, both in terms of gags (like various armor pieces flying towards Tony’s sensitive male areas at high speeds) and action scenes (including a standout sequence where Tony thrashes a roomful of thugs with only part of his armor).

There’s also a new terrorist threat on the loose in the form of the Mandarin, played by Sir Ben Kingsley, and a sketchy businessman named Aldrich Killian (people named Killian are Not To Be Trusted) played by Guy Pearce. For some reason that currently escapes me, the Mandarin has a serious vendetta against Tony, which leads to the spectacular destruction of Tony’s awesome mansion (this is not a spoiler, it was in all the trailers). From there, things get a bit…weird.

There’s only so much I can say about the plot without giving too much away, so all I’m going is to say is that there is a big plot twist regarding…well, I can’t say what the twist involves because to say even that would give away too much. Suffice to say that there’s a really big plot twist, and it’s a bit weird.

I’m honestly pretty torn about the big twist. Those of you who have seen the film will know which plot twist I’m referring to, and the way I see it there are two very distinct ways of viewing it.

In one sense, it’s a great twist because it is completely unexpected. It’s noteworthy that there was nothing whatsoever in the film’s extensive advertising to suggest this particular plot twist, and when it happens it is genuinely surprising. It’s impressive when the makers of one of the biggest films of the year are able to so completely pull the wool over viewers’ eyes.

On the other hand, it’s a terrible plot twist for all of the same reasons that make it a great plot twist. It’s jarring because it comes out of nowhere, and seems really out of place, and completely contrary to what the audience was expecting. Now that I’ve had a few days to think it over, I’ve decided that it is admittedly a clever and thoroughly unpredictable twist, but at the same time it’s hard not to feel a bit cheated by it.

Sigh. That’s the thing with big plot twists. They’re either brilliant or they suck. Or they’re both at the same time. It’s kind of confounding from a storytelling perspective.

So where do I go from here? Well, I’ve read some complaints of the film by people who think that there wasn’t enough actual Iron Man in the movie, since (mild spoiler alert) Tony himself doesn’t spend a whole lot of time in the Iron Man suits. This is mostly true, but I thought there was plenty of Iron Man in the movie (or Iron Men as the case may be), even if Tony himself wasn’t always wearing the suit (and if you think about it, there really wasn’t a whole lot of Batman in The Dark Knight Rises).

I think Shane Black said something about how the movie kind of pondered if there was more to Tony Stark as a person and a hero than just the suits, and I think there is something to that idea. Iron Man 3 is almost more of a Tony Stark movie than an Iron Man movie, but, you know, I’m actually pretty okay with that. There are some fun action scenes where Tony has to rely on his brains more than his metal muscle, and these scenes are a fun and important reminder of just how smart and resourceful Tony is.

Despite some of the more jarring plot elements (and there are more and more of them as the film progresses), Iron Man 3 is still a fun and enjoyable movie with lots of great moments. It’s hard not to get a kick out of Downey’s buddy-chemistry with Don Cheadle, and watching them bicker and shoot at bad guys also brings to mind a couple of famous movie cops in another Shane Black-scripted action flick. Downey is as likable and cocky as ever, and Gwyneth Paltrow gets more to do as his lady love than just get captured and look nice (both of which she does). The rest of the supporting cast is solid, the special effects are top-notch and the film moves along briskly and is certainly never boring. There is also a post-credits scene well worth sitting through the end credits for.

Iron Man 3 is a film that perplexed me a bit as I left the theater. I had a lot of mixed emotions about it at first, but now that I’ve had some time to mull it over I think it’s a better film than I initially gave it credit for. There is a certain degree of WTF that I didn’t expect, but it’s a fun, well-made film and I will see it again. If you didn’t like it the first time you saw it, I’d really encourage you to give it another try. First impressions aren’t everything.

Surprise WTF rating: 7.66666(repeating), because why not.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a movie to watch.